The following piece by Richard Viguerie appeared in Sojourners recently. I liked it so much, I’m just reproducing it here.
When Governments Kill
A conservative argues for abolishing the death penalty.
by Richard A. Viguerie
On most public policy matters, Jim Wallis and I disagree. Both of us,
however, do believe that the death penalty should be
abolished—although we may not agree on how that should be done.
I’m a Catholic. Because of my Christian faith, and because I am a
follower of Jesus Christ, I oppose the death penalty. I’m a
conservative as well, and because my political philosophy recognizes
that government is too often used by humans for the wrong ends, I find
it quite logical to oppose capital punishment.
I have been criticized by some conservatives for my opposition to the
death penalty. On the other hand, some conservatives have told me they
question capital punishment or even oppose it, but believe that the
conservative “position” is to support it. Fortunately for me, even if
someone were to question my conservative bona fides (I’ve never been
called not conservative enough, trust me), I wouldn’t care.
The fact is, I don’t understand why more conservatives don’t oppose
the death penalty. It is, after all, a system set up under laws
established by politicians (too many of whom lack principles);
enforced by prosecutors (many of whom want to become
politicians—perhaps a character flaw?—and who prefer wins over
justice); and adjudicated by judges (too many of whom administer
personal preference rather than the law).
Conservatives have every reason to believe the death penalty system is
no different from any politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic,
government-run operation, which we conservatives know are rife with
injustice. But here the end result is the end of someone’s life. In
other words, it’s a government system that kills people.
Those of us who oppose abortion believe that it is perhaps the
greatest immorality to take an innocent life. While the death penalty
is supposed to take the life of the guilty, we know that is not always
the case. It should have shocked the consciences of conservatives when
various government prosecutors withheld exculpatory, or opposed
allowing DNA-tested, evidence in death row cases. To conservatives,
that should be deemed as immoral as abortion.
The death penalty system is flawed and untrustworthy because human
institutions always are. But even when guilt is certain, there are
many downsides to the death penalty system. I’ve heard enough about
the pain and suffering of families of victims caused by the long,
drawn-out, and even intrusive legal process. Perhaps, then, it’s time
for America to re-examine the death penalty system, whether it works,
and whom it hurts.
On how society would ever get to the point of abolishing the death
penalty, if it were to do that, I have my conservative views. It must
be done in a way consistent with our constitutional system. That means
it cannot be imposed by the courts or by the federal government
(except for federal cases). In my opinion, the Constitution does not
grant the federal government the authority to ban the death penalty in
the states. That must be left to the people’s representatives in their
respective states, which also means that judges must not take it upon
This is why I am joining my friend Jim Wallis in a coalition of
liberals and conservatives calling for a national moratorium and
conversation about the death penalty, so people can study, learn,
think, pray if they wish, about whether or how the various state
death-penalty systems should be changed. I hope you’ll join us.
Richard A. Viguerie has been called “one of the creators of the modern
conservative movement” by The Nation magazine.
When Governments Kill. by Richard A. Viguerie. Sojourners Magazine,
July 2009 (Vol. 38, No. 7, pp. 10). Commentary.